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CHAPTER III


ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL


"There is one thing I've forgotten to mention to you," said Phil, as the train rolled on its way and Crumville was left far behind. "That is that this term Doctor Clay has offered a special set of prizes to the students standing highest in various subjects. There is a prize for history, another for Latin, and a third for English literature and themewriting. In addition there is to be a special prize for the student who can write the best paper on 'The Past and Future of our Country.' This last contest is open only to those who stand above the eighty per cent. level in their classes."

"That's interesting," answered Dave. "How many reach that level, do you think, Phil?"

"Not more than thirty all told, and of those I don't believe more than twenty will send in papers."

"Dave, you ought to try," said Roger. "You were always good at composition."

"So are you, Roger."

"I'm not as good as you, and I know it. I like history more than anything else, and I guess I'll try for that prize."

"Well, what is the past of our country but history?" continued Dave, with a smile.

"That part might be easy; but what of the future? I'm no good at prophesying."

"Oh, couldn't you speak of the recent inventions and of what is coming—marvelous submarine boats, airships, wireless telegraphy, wonderful cures by means of up-to-date surgery, and then of the big cities of the West, of the new railroads stretching out everywhere, and of the fast ocean liners, and the Panama Canal, and the irrigation of the Western dry lands, and——"

"Hold on, Dave!" cried Phil. "You are giving Roger all your ammunition. Put that in your own paper."

"Oh, there's a whole lot more," was the smiling answer. "The thirty- and forty-storied buildings in our big cities, the underground railways, the tubes under the rivers, the tremendous suspension bridges, the automobile carriages and business trucks,—not to mention the railroad trains that are to run on one rail at a speed of a hundred miles an hour. Oh, there are lots of things—if one only stops to think of them."

"The prize is yours, Dave!" exclaimed the senator's son. "You've mentioned more in three minutes than I would have thought of in three weeks. I'll stick to history."

"And I'll stick to English literature—I'm pretty well up on that, thank goodness!" said the shipowner's son.

After that the talk drifted to other things—of the doings of the students at Oak Hall, and of how Job Haskers, one of the assistant teachers, had caught some of the lads playing a trick on Pop Swingly, the janitor, and punished them severely for it.

"The trick didn't amount to much," said Phil, "and I rather believe Swingly enjoyed it. But old Haskers was in a bilious mood and made the fellows stay in after school for three days."

"Were you in it?" asked Dave.

"Yes; and all of us have vowed to get square on Haskers."

"It's a wonder Doctor Clay doesn't get rid of Haskers—he is so unpopular," was Roger's comment.

"Haskers is a fine teacher, that's why he is kept. But I like Mr. Dale much better," said Dave.

"Oh, everybody does!"

"All but Link Merwell," said Phil. "Isn't it strange, he seems to get along very well with Haskers."

"Two of a kind maybe," returned the senator's son.

After a long run the Junction was reached, where the boys had to change cars for Oakdale. They got off and found they had twenty-five minutes to wait.

"Remember the time we were here and had the trouble with Isaac Pludding?" asked Roger.

"I'll never forget it," answered Dave, with a grin. "By the way, as we have time to spare let us go around to Denman's restaurant and have a cup of chocolate and a piece of pie. That car was so cold it chilled me."

Growing boys are always hungry, so, despite the generous breakfast they had had, they walked over to the restaurant named. The man who kept it remembered them well and smiled broadly as they took seats at a table.

"On your way to school, I suppose," he said, as he served them. "Ain't following up Ike Pludding this trip, are you?"

"Hardly," answered Dave. "What do you know of him?"

"I know he is about down and out," answered Amos Denman. "And served him right too."

The boys were about to leave the restaurant when Dave chanced to glance in one of the windows. There, on a big platter, was an inviting heap of chicken salad, above which was a sign announcing it was for sale at thirty cents a pint.

"Let me try that salad, will you?" Dave asked.

"Certainly. Want to take some along?" And Amos Denman passed over a forkful.

"What are you going to do with chicken salad?" questioned Roger.

"Oh, I thought we might want to celebrate our return by a little feast, Roger."

"Hurrah! just the thing!" ejaculated the senator's son. "Is it good? It is? All right, I'll take a quart."

"I'll take a quart, too," said Dave. "I guess you can put it all together."

"Are those mince pies fresh?" asked Phil, pointing to some in a case.

"Just out of the oven. Feel of them."

"Then I'll take two."

In the end the three youths purchased quite a number of things from the restaurant keeper, who tied up the articles in pasteboard boxes wrapped in brown paper. Then the lads had to run for the train and were the last on board.

It had begun to snow again and the white flakes were coming down thickly when the train rolled into the neat little station at Oakdale. The boys were the only ones to alight and they looked around eagerly to see if the school carryall was waiting for them.

"Hello, fellows!" cried a voice from the end of the platform, and Joseph Beggs, usually called Buster because of his fatness, waddled up. "Thought you'd be on this train."

"How are you, Buster?" answered Dave, shaking hands. "My, but aren't you getting thin!" And he looked the fat boy over with a grin.

"It's worry that's doing it," answered Buster, calmly. "Haven't slept a night since you went away, Dave. So you really found your dad and your sister! Sounds like a regular six-act-and-fourteen-scene drama. We'll have to write it up and get Horsehair to star in it. First Act: Found on the Railroad Tracks; Second Act: The Faithful Farm Boy; Third Act: The King of the School; Fourth Act——"

"Waiting for the Stage," interrupted Dave. "Keep it, Buster, until we're on the way to Oak Hall. Did you come down alone?"

"Not much he didn't come down alone! " cried a voice at Dave's elbow, and Maurice Hamilton, always called Shadow, appeared. Maurice was as tall and thin as Buster was stout. "Let me feel your hand and know you are really here, Dave," he went on. "Why, your story is—is—what shall I say?"

"Great," suggested Roger.

"Marvelous," added Phil.

"Out of sight," put in Buster Beggs.

"All good—and that puts me in mind of a story. One time there was a——"

"Shadow—so early in the day!" cried the senator's son, reproachfully.

"Oh, you can't shut him off," exploded Buster. "He's been telling chestnuts ever since we left the Hall."

"This isn't a chestnut, it's a——"

"Hickory nut," finished Phil; "hard to crack—as the darky said of the china egg he wanted to fry."

"It isn't a chestnut or a hickory nut either," expostulated the story-teller of the school. "It's a brand-new one. One time there was a county——"

"If it's new you ought to have it copyrighted, Shadow," said Roger.

"Perhaps a trade-mark might do," added Dave. "You can get one for——"

"Say, don't you want to hear this story?" demanded Shadow.

"Yes, yes, go on!" was the chorus.

"Now we've had the first installment we'll have to have the finish or die," continued Phil, tragically.

"Well, one time there was a county fair, with a number of side shows, snakes, acrobats, and such things. One tent had a big sign over it, 'The Greatest and Most Marvelous Wonder of the Age—A man who plays the piano better with his feet than most skilled musicians can play with their hands. Admission 10 cents.' That sign attracted a big crowd and brought in a lot of money. When the folks got inside a man came out, sat down in front of a piano that played with paper rolls, and pumped the thing for all he was worth with his feet!"

"Oh, what a sell!" roared Phil. "Shadow, that's the worst you ever told."

"Quite a feat," said Dave.

"But painful to the understanding," added Roger. He looked around. "Hello, here's Horsehair at last."

He referred to Jackson Lemond, the driver for the school, who was always called Horsehair because of the hairs which invariably clung to his clothing. The driver was coming down the main street of the town with a package of harness dressing in his hand.

"Had to git this," he explained. "How de do, young gents? All ready to go to the Hall?"

"Horsehair, we're going to write a play about Dave's discoveries," said Buster. "We want you to star in it. We know you can make a hit."

"No starrin' fer me," answered the driver, who had once played minor parts in a barnstorming theatrical company. "I'll stick to the hosses."

"But think of it, Horsehair," went on Buster. "We'll have you eaten up by cannibals of the South Seas, frozen to death in Norway snowstorms, shooting bears as big as elephants, and——"

"Oh, Buster, do let up!" cried Dave. "None of those things are true, and you know it. Come ahead, I am anxious to see the rest of the fellows," and Dave ran for the carryall, with his dress-suit case in one hand and one of the packages from the restaurant in the other.

Soon the crowd had piled into the turnout, Phil on the front seat beside the driver, and away they went. The carryall had been put on runners and ran as easily as a cutter, having two powerful horses to pull it.

All of the boys were in high spirits and as they sped over the snow they sang and cracked jokes to their hearts' content. They did not forget the old school song, sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," and sang this with a vigor that tested their lungs to the uttermost:

"Oak Hall we never shall forget,
No matter where we roam;
It is the very best of schools,
To us it's just like home!
Then give three cheers, and let them ring
Throughout this world so wide,
To let the people know that we
Elect to here abide!"

"By the way, how is Gus Plum getting along these days?" asked Dave of Shadow Hamilton, during a pause in the fun. He referred, as my old readers know, to a youth who in days gone by had been a great bully at the Hall.

"Gus Plum needs watching," was the low answer, so that none of the other boys might hear. "He is better in some ways, Dave, and much worse in others."

"How do you mean, Shadow? "

"I can't explain here—but I'll do it in private some day," answered Shadow; and then the carryall swept up to the school steps and a number of students ran forth from the building to greet the new arrivals.